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The International Journal of

Int J Psychoanal (2012) 93:405–422 doi: 10.1111/j.1745-8315.2012.00575.x

Reflections on psychoanalytic technique with

adolescents today: Pseudo-pseudomaturity

Viviane Sprinz Mondrzak

Rua Teixeira Soares 28, apt. 401, Porto Alegre 90440–140, Brazil

(Final version accepted 28 November 2011)

The starting point for this paper is current observation of adolescents who seem
unable to break the latency structure, making it difficult for the adolescence pro-
cess to become established. These youngsters present with a specific set of charac-
teristics which the author proposes to call ‘pseudo-pseudomaturity’: they seem for
the most part well adapted, with an absence of unconscious conflicts. However,
they differ from Meltzer’s description of pseudomaturity in that the omnipotent
attitude of dependence-denying is not seen. On the contrary, they seem eager to
take the opportunity to have the infantile true self accepted and contained before
they can safely enter the process of adolescence, with all its turbulence. Some
aspects of our culture are discussed in relation to the psychic configuration
described. Using fragments from the analysis of a 19 year-old patient, the paper
looks at technical issues raised by these cases. There is an emphasis on the ana-
lyst’s own mental processes and the importance of being able to contain the emo-
tional turbulence that cannot be sensed by the patient. The author sets out the
different modalities suggested ⁄ tested ⁄ proposed in the analytic relationship in sup-
port of the transferential work. Some questions regarding how and when to make
interpretations are also discussed. In these types of cases, the psychoanalytic pro-
cess carries a two-fold responsibility – to the patient and to society as a whole, in
view of the creative potential that adolescents represent, essential for social change
and growth.

Keywords: adolescence, psychoanalytic technique, interpretation

I was approached by the mother of lvaro, a young man of 19. She said
that she was not seriously concerned about her son but she noticed that he
seemed distracted from his university studies and had changed courses sev-
eral times. This had never happened before as he had always been an exem-
plary student. He was seeing a young woman of 27 who seemed ‘‘stuck on
him’’ and she did not know whether this was appropriate. She said that,
otherwise, he was ‘‘a mature, relaxed, good-natured young man who gets on
well with everybody’’. She wanted to make it clear that she never interfered
in her son’s business and always respected his privacy and autonomy. lvaro
was the child of her first marriage; they had separated when he was 3 years
old. She had three small sons from her second marriage and lvaro got on
well with them: ‘‘He isn’t jealous and even helps out with them.’’ The
patient’s father lived abroad and was presented as someone from a relation-
ship that did not work out, who was absent from their lives.

Copyright ª 2012 Institute of Psychoanalysis

Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK and
350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA on behalf of the Institute of Psychoanalysis
406 V. S. Mondrzak

Using fragments from lvaro’s analysis (carried out over three sessions a
week, using the couch), I will look at some issues emerging from my cur-
rent clinical work with adolescents. My starting point was the observation
that I was increasingly seeing young men and women with a condition
whose characteristics were that the adolescence process was not yet estab-
lished and the expected break from the latency structure was marked by
dissociation and obsessional mechanisms. These young people were appar-
ently asymptomatic with well-balanced personalities, in other words show-
ing similarities with Meltzer’s (1978) description of pseudomaturity, but
not showing the denial of dependence masked by an attitude of pseudo-
cooperation that is characteristic of this concept of pseudomaturity. On the
contrary, I was encountering youngsters who eagerly embraced analysis
once it proved to offer a containing space. It would perhaps be appropriate
to describe these youngsters as ‘pseudo-pseudomature’ because the usual
defensive structure is seen to break down more easily in these cases. My
intention in giving them this description is not to create a new metapsy-
chological entity, but rather to set out a basic premise upon which to look
at the way postmodern culture may influence the formation of a particular
defensive configuration.
Each area of scientific knowledge may have its own defined field of
inquiry and study methodology but in all scientific research there is a grow-
ing awareness that it is not possible to study phenomena in isolation. We
must always be careful to remember that, before we are psychoanalysts (or,
at least, our identities are inseparable from the role), we are adults forming
and formed by this world that we share with the adolescent, and are influ-
enced by it in ways that we cannot always fully appreciate. Reflecting on the
world in which we carry out our work is therefore fundamental to our
understanding. Since we are all enmeshed in our culture, this will have to be
done without the emotional distance that is usually desired. In any case, we
know that the scientific ideal of neutral observation has been laid to rest,
with our current understanding that the observer forms a part of what is
being observed.
This paper will focus on the dilemmas thrown up in the psychoanalytic
treatment of adolescents in the current context and not on the study of con-
temporary culture itself; it will attempt to set out the new challenges arising
in our work and describe the technical resources available to us. I will illus-
trate my points using fragments from lvaro’s analysis and my reflections
on the process in hindsight. Clearly, clinical material only gives us glimpses
that are partial and does not take into account other possible angles of
awareness and contexts.
My concern here is to accompany the mental work of the analyst in
attempting to understand the emotional experience during the session and
in formulating interpretations. I start from the conviction that, in analysis,
analyst and patient together make up a complex interconnecting system in
which the whole (the analytic work) is greater than the sum of its parts.
Before moving on to an account of lvaro’s analysis, I should like to
bring into the discussion some points regarding our present-day culture and
then attempt to draw out links with adolescent psychoanalytic work.

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Reflections on psychoanalytic technique with adolescents today: Pseudo-pseudomaturity 407

The importance of culture

The way in which the environment acts upon psychic life is well established.
Freud highlighted their intimate relationship throughout his work and his
aetiological equation is perhaps the most plastic synthesis of this intricate
causal network. But what interests me here is the modern-day approach seen
across the different branches of science that rejects the dichotomy between
objective reality (the external environment) and subjective fantasy (the inter-
nal world). Unlike the dominant approach of Freud’s day which defined an
external, objective reality captured by the organs of the senses, retained as
an unconscious, ‘truthful’ representation of these perceptions and then
(according to whether or not it was accepted by the conscience) distorted by
instinctual drives, we now know that perception itself is predetermined by
what we can or can come to perceive, defining individual micro-worlds that
are built up and remain in place in accordance with our different perceptual
experiences (Mondrzak et al., 2007).
The important biologist Maturana, who (jointly with Varela) developed
the concept of autopoiesis, showed how the environment ‘selects’ struc-
tural change in the organism and how the organism, by its own activity,
selects structural change in the environment (Maturana and Varela, 1984).
The kind of structural change that takes place in the organism and in
the environment is determined by the structure of each side (of the cou-
pling). However, the sequence of these changes is determined by the
sequence of their interactions. The environment selects the path of the
structural transformation that the living organism undergoes over its life-
Thus we are constituted according to the history of these interactions,
within the limits imposed by our human structure. Not only in terms of
ontogeny, we are born immersed in a culture that precedes us and tran-
scends us, which influences us directly and across the generations; conse-
quently, the structure of each biological cell reflects the interactions that
have taken place over the generations that have preceded us.
Winnicott (1971) encapsulated this perspective precisely and poetically in
the concept of environment–mother, stating that there is no such thing as a
baby (that is, as distinct from its mother). He also developed his ideas of
transitional space and its association with play into a personal theory of
‘culture’. Here, the emphasis moves away from inherited tradition and expe-
rience onto something that is in the common pool of humanity to which
individuals and groups of people may contribute and from which they may
draw benefits, if they have somewhere to put what they may find. This con-
cept of culture integrates originality and tradition but on a foundation of
individual creativity:
Since there is no society except as a structure brought about and maintained and
constantly reconstructed by individuals, there is no personal fulfilment without soci-
ety, and no society apart from the collective growth processes of the individuals that
compose it.
(Winnicott, 1971, p. 190)

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408 V. S. Mondrzak

For Winnicott, culture may be linked to the most fundamental aspect of

the initial experience of the mother and child – the emotional quality of the
‘mother’s gaze’ upon the child and its role in creating subjective experience.
Coming from the same perspective, Cahn (2009) emphasizes the co-
responsibility of the subjectifying object in the work of differentiation and
its determining role in the blocking or facilitating of this process. He also
talks about a third essential element that will bring in a metapsychological
focus on the articulation between intersubjective field and social field, previ-
ous solely the territory of phenomenology or sociology. He states that,
according to the Freudian metapsychological point of view, external events
are either internalized or projected and the object of psychoanalysis is the
psyche of the individual, the result of these mechanisms. It is based on the
identificatory model, looking at the way in which the subject takes inside
itself the ‘not-me’. In Cahn’s approach, all psychic functioning is constituted
by interactions with the external object and ‘‘the intensity and modality of
the instinct-fusion in the subject may be related directly to what is observed
in the society and culture to which the subject belongs’’ (2009, p. 309). He
considers that it was in the work of Bion and Winnicott that the influence
of the external was brought directly into the study of the inner world. It is
my belief that, more than this, they achieved a radical breakthrough in pro-
posing a metapsychology in which the two dimensions were fused, being
constituted through their interrelationship.
When we talk about a certain psychic configuration being seen in an ado-
lescent, I believe that, as well as revealing the personal history of the indi-
vidual, this tells us things about the cultural landscape of which they are a
part. It seems that, at this moment in their physical and psychic develop-
ment, adolescents are at once synthesizing and reflecting, in positive, the
photography of the adult world as the two cannot be separated.

Postmodern times
Many studies have been done on the features of the postmodern period and
it would be inappropriate and distracting to go into more depth on these
Postmodern culture (in common with all cultures) sustains erotic–thanatic
aspects: on the one hand, we see an increasing awareness that complete and
definitive truths do not exist, which encourages a higher regard for the new
and different; on the other, we see the defences against this percept leading
to a pursuit of the narcissistic ideal of completeness (Rocca, 2000).
What I would like to pay particular attention to for the purposes of this
article is the increase in narcissistic characteristics seen in postmodern cul-
ture. Jeammet (2009) is one of several writers who believe that, in the cur-
rent period, we have seen a shift from pathologies of conflict, which
traditionally characterize repressive societies, to pathologies of connections,
boundaries and dependence – placing the narcissistic dimension at the heart
of the picture.
I believe that the failure of the Illuminist ideals which have underpinned
the modern period – which society is still metabolizing – is a central issue.

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Reflections on psychoanalytic technique with adolescents today: Pseudo-pseudomaturity 409

The omnipotent belief in the power of reason and scientific progress, in a

future in which nature would be tamed and certainties achieved, can no
longer be sustained. With the breakdown of the meta-narratives which
advanced the ideals of the 20th century, discredited in the wake of two great
wars, we have been left with an absence of guiding models and perspectives
and an ethical crisis of shocking proportions. In general terms, what we see
happening now is a compensatory process, one that is attempting to fill the
void left by the (undoubtedly, omnipotent) confident hopes society once
placed in the powers of reason. It is taking place via a set of options aiming
to make up for the breakdown of omnipotence. It is therefore hardly sur-
prising that the pursuit of narcissistic compensations in which faults and
fragilities are denied should be so marked. In this context, differences
between the generations and the sexes, the finite nature of human life and
even the passage of time, are denied; youth is idealized and pursued as a
goal in itself. Given this situation, we should not be surprised if, in seeking
to blur difference, we see conflict as something to be feared and avoided.
However, we know that generational confrontation is a crucial process in
adolescent identity-building. The presence of an other, of alterity, is a neces-
sary condition for its establishment. It brings into being a tension of differ-
ence and obliges both parties to acknowledge that being ‘opponents’ does
not equal being ‘enemies’ (Kancyper, 2005). During their children’s adoles-
cence, the parents, too, must pass through complex psychic elaborations
involving the reactivation and resignification of their own adolescence. The
ideal of not ‘aging’ only makes this process harder.
Taking these ideas further, Cahn (2009) proposes that adolescence may be
seen as a pathology paradigm for our time – in the same way as hysteria
was for the Victorian age – in that it combines characteristics seen in indi-
viduals of all ages: the condition of alienation from oneself and from others
denoting a crisis of identity and relationship difficulties, and the use of nar-
cissistic defences. Except that adolescence is not a pathology and the use of
narcissistic regression as a defence is an essential part of development.
Cahn’s analogy only exposes the pathology of adulthood and configures the
adult (or pseudo-adult) whom the adolescent will have to encounter.
I want to be clear that my intention here is not to point out the evils of
postmodernism, which would merely be reflecting a knee-jerk, moralizing
approach, but rather to reflect on the environment that shapes us as analysts
and, most importantly, to look at the issues with which we are confronted
as adolescents seek to become autonomous beings. The impact of social
change is seen in various dimensions, leading to an infinite number of socio-
economic and cultural configurations. The specific features of adolescence
will take on different and variable shapes in the face of these (Cahn, 1999).
Virginia Ungar (2009) is one of the analysts who have studied this topic in
more depth and emphasizes that: ‘‘Both patient and analyst are socialized
beings who respond in one way or another to the cultural conditions of the
time in which they live’’ (p. 314).
Before continuing with our discussion, let us meet lvaro in person. He is
a pale, very thin young man who clearly dresses with some care. He speaks
slowly, using rather correct language with no slang. He seemed to me to be

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410 V. S. Mondrzak

rather fragile. In my head I had formed an impression of a pseudo-mature,

perhaps arrogant, young man who would not be motivated to seek treat-
ment but who would appear to co-operate and would not resist analysis.
However, the patient who presented was not that person: although there
were no outward signs of distress, he referred to a feeling of ‘‘dislocation’’,
of not quite fitting in any situation, even if this did not actually extend to
experiencing discomfort. An opportunity to question his motivation for
seeking treatment did not present itself; there was a sense that the reason
was obvious and the eagerness with which he grasped the offer of treatment
was the most ‘communicative’ part of his intense need to be there. Indeed,
what concerned me about him was precisely the fact that all seemed well in
his world: where were the feelings of jealousy towards his brothers, the com-
plaints about his mother, his father, his stepfather? Where were the anxiety,
the questioning, the insecurities? It was almost as though they had all been
condensed into that single mention of a feeling of dislocation – especially
since there was no real evidence of problems showing in a lack of friends,
excessive drug use, isolation, depression or any other clinical manifestation.
The beginning of analysis was characterized by many absences and late
arrivals but we always kept to the agreed three sessions a week. I would
always see him, even when there were only five minutes of the session left.
He did not seem to be fully aware of the situation. He kept his own time,
which is common in adolescence, but, unless I drew his attention to this
temporality issue, there was a sense that he would be in denial of the exis-
tence of the other time that was common to us both. But I do not want
him to be obedient or to think that he is required to keep to a timetable in
order to please me. I decide to show that he seems to move between two dif-
ferent times – the time on the clock and a more personal time particular to
him, and that they do not always coincide. He says to me: ‘‘Don’t worry
about it, it isn’t important now, the main thing is that I’m coming.’’ He does
not give me the impression that he feels he has been accused of something;
he must have understood that I was worried and tried to calm me down;
something else is being communicated wrapped up in the ‘timetable’ subject.
I wonder if I should say this to him or not, whether it is necessary to put
it into words. I decide to wait. In the next session he says he has realized
something unexpected about his 5 year-old brother: he is outgoing, but
underneath he is frightened. He doesn’t want to go to a friend’s house for a
visit or to have a friend come to his house just yet. lvaro thinks his
mother is to blame as she wants him to behave as though he were older
already: ‘‘This makes the child confused and frightened.’’ He is surprised
that he hasn’t realized this before (‘‘it was obvious’’) and now he under-
stands better his brother’s rather odd manner and does not feel rejected by
him any more. The message could not have been clearer: I should not feel
rejected by him because of his lateness; I should try to understand his fear
of opening up and I shouldn’t ask him to behave as though ‘‘he were older’’.
This time I decide merely to indicate that his capacity to perceive feelings is
growing and also that it takes time to feel able to confide in people. I decide
to leave ‘people’ undefined so that he can define and fill it with content later
on. I do not feel the need to make a direct interpretation of the transference

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Reflections on psychoanalytic technique with adolescents today: Pseudo-pseudomaturity 411

at this point since it would impose limitations on what we can talk about
and would get in the way.
After seven months of treatment, lvaro makes a ‘casual’ remark that his
mother and stepfather are thinking about going to live in another country
but ‘‘obviously’’ he will not be going with them because he has to finish his
studies. I understand now that this plan has always been there in the back-
ground. As I realize that the plan is going to become a reality in three
months’ time I feel my anxiety level increasing, in inverse proportion to
lvaro’s, who seems quite calm. I imagine how lonely the patient will be
with no family left here. I am angry with the patient’s mother; I feel as
though she is leaving me with the responsibility for her son. They have
decided that he should live on his own before the family leaves so that he
‘‘gets used to things’’. This was the patient’s decision and not something
imposed on him and he seems to think it was the right one. The patient’s
mother is asking if she can speak to me – which he is pleased about, as he
likes us to talk to each other. I am always concerned when I speak to a
mother that I may be violating the patient’s autonomy, even more so in
these cases. Where is the line between acting as a temporary intermediary in
negotiations between the patient and his mother and adopting an intrusive
stance and infantilizing them? And there is the opposite risk, that the
dependent, infantile dimension will not be accepted.
The only way forward for me is to let him help me to get the balance
right, guided by the atmosphere that develops between us. I do not think he
wants me to function as an omnipotently projected part who will ‘change’
his mother. I am surprised by how lucidly he expresses this: ‘‘She is very
business-like, she doesn’t like people to interfere because her parents were
like that, they gave her no freedom, she treats me like she would like to be
treated.’’ I say that perhaps he would like her to treat him differently, to
show more concern and interfere more. He replies: ‘‘She could seem more
worried about leaving me here, she could even cry sometimes, it isn’t going
to do me any harm.’’ lvaro needs his mother to accept and admit that she
has such feelings before he can feel permitted to show his own. At this
moment I think I am starting to feel what is not able to be felt between
them. I suggest that he would like it if having anxious feelings and wanting
to cry could be something he might expect in these circumstances. I go on:
‘‘Perhaps you are also wondering if we are going to have space to do this
here.’’ My concern is that we are able to create a space in which his very
great dependence can be held and he can try to ascertain how far I am able
to tolerate his dependence. After this he tells me: ‘‘On Sunday my mother
was busy with the children, we couldn’t have lunch together. Do you think
it is possible that this made me feel jealous?’’ I reply: ‘‘I don’t think so, I am
sure of it!’’ My response is totally saturated, quite automatic and it startles
me at first, but then I think that I cannot hold back and leave in the air
what seems to me patently true. He finds my reply quite funny and chal-
lenges me, laughing: ‘‘How can you be so sure?’’ ‘‘Because it is not possible
not to be resentful in that situation,’’ I reply. He seems satisfied with my
reply. He is quiet and thoughtful for a while: ‘‘They have a new family, it’s
natural, the only thing we have in common is that we have the same mother

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412 V. S. Mondrzak

... I am an appendage.’’ There is a mixture of sadness and anger in his voice

as he acknowledges that he is not allowed to access the space considered to
be ‘‘for the children’’. The elaboration of this thought is slow; I know it is a
step forward but I find it painful. At these times, I too would wish that
these feelings could be avoided.
It is January; lvaro’s family is moving abroad and my holidays are
approaching. I note that he seems more chaotic as his timekeeping is once
more unpredictable and I say this to him. His concerns focus on his girl-
friend who is practically living with him. He makes a passing comment that
he would like to break off the relationship but he can’t do it, he ‘‘feels sorry
for her.’’ It is clear to me that, through projective identification, his girl-
friend has come to represent dependent aspects of his personality that can-
not yet be integrated (‘‘she has no family’’) and so he cannot turn her away.
But the subject does not come up again; it is as though he doesn’t have a
girlfriend, the existence of sexuality is denied. I suggest that we are aware
that many issues are bound up with the ‘‘girlfriend’’ subject. He agrees but
says we still need to wait a bit before we can talk about these things.
When I come back from holiday, lvaro appears walking on crutches,
with his leg bandaged. I learn that on the second day of the holidays, during
a row with his girlfriend, he kicked in a glass door and cut his leg badly.
This news has a strong effect on me and I am left not knowing exactly what
to say. I wonder if this was what I had in mind when I was thinking that he
needed some psychic turbulence. The clearest feeling is one of guilt that I
may have unleashed the ‘devils of the unconscious’ and then left them to
run riot. He plays down the incident and seems mainly concerned with his
achievement in not getting too distressed and taking the necessary action. I
say: ‘‘It’s just that your mother wasn’t here and, on top of that, neither was
I.’’ He doesn’t appear to register what I have said. We spend a few sessions
talking about his leg; he has a triumphant air, perhaps he has understood
that I was culpable, perceiving me as a mother who is failing in her duty of
care. In these sessions I consider whether I should be more active (as an
analyst) in interpreting what cannot be put into words: feelings of anger,
abandonment and of pleasure seeing us as guilty mothers. He must have felt
that I did not assess the situation well, judging him to be more able to deal
with his feelings than in reality he was.
He brings along photographs of his leg. He asks: ‘‘Which of these shall I
send to my mother?’’ I say: ‘‘It depends what you want her to feel.’’ He
describes each one: ‘‘This one shows the scars better, this one has the open
wounds on it, this one is the most shocking.’’ He pauses at this one. I say
that it seems to me that he wants to send the one that will leave her feeling
most shocked, upset, and – maybe – guilty. He was showing me them all.
He goes on (he doesn’t acknowledge the direct transference): ‘‘Exactly, I
want her to have a reaction, I want her to be worried about me. When
I had the accident, I started to think that she would come back, I think I
wanted her to come. I know that she cares about me, but that’s not enough
for me. It’s all very rational, it’s not what I need.’’ He recalls how he always
accepted his mother’s way of thinking. He pauses. Then he remembers, with
evident relief: ‘‘One time I didn’t do the sensible thing. I managed to do

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Reflections on psychoanalytic technique with adolescents today: Pseudo-pseudomaturity 413

something different from what my mother wanted. I signed up to study

singing, and I have a terrible voice.’’ Various possibilities pass through my
mind; I am tempted to report how I think he was always afraid of being
rejected by his mother if he didn’t behave like ‘‘a mature and independent
boy’’, and of the distress and anger that would ensue. But I hold back, say-
ing all this would only serve to reassure me that I was doing some work. I
say that it makes him feel better to see that it is possible to follow his
desires in some way without this meaning either that he has to break off
relations with his mother or using the outlet of ‘‘kicking doors in’’ and hurt-
ing himself in order to punish her. He says: ‘‘The thing is, it was always just
her and me, happy on our own.’’
In the next session he says that he decided not to send the photo: ‘‘She
would have been really worried. I thought I would send a card instead.’’ He
shows it to me. It is brightly coloured and has a picture of a teddy bear
with a pleading expression and a message inside that reads: ‘‘I really miss
you.’’ It is completely incongruous and at the same time completely truth-
ful. He asks what I think of the card. I say that, by the look of it, he has
decided to be very direct and say what he intended to say indirectly with
the photo. He laughs and says: ‘‘I thought it was a bit childish but it was
the only one I felt like sending. And what you said is right [I don’t remem-
ber ever saying this but I must have let it be implied]: there is no harm in
people showing what they’re feeling, even if it is childish; that doesn’t make
me a child.’’ The symbolic transformation process that had taken place
between the stage of the photos and that of the card was clear and yet I
could not banish the thought that perhaps he needed to have sent the
photo first, to have built himself up to ‘shock’ his mother. Was simply
shocking me going to be enough? I did not have the answer but I knew
that my profound shock at the episode’s destructive potential (feelings that
were impossible to avoid, however much I would have liked to) was of key
importance, particularly considering the mother’s response that sent the
message: lvaro would have to take responsibility for his own actions. For
some time I am worried that I should be making more interpretations, con-
cerned that I may be abandoning him to his demons without the self-
knowledge to be able to avoid further risky acting-out. I frequently feel
overwhelmed: he seems to have been left entirely in my hands and I am not
equipped to make up for the lack of a maternal ⁄ paternal substratum. The
work of coming to terms with the limits to the support analysis could offer
was always going on but it was also counterbalanced by a confidence in a
non-omnipotent way of working, that proved to be of immense value. The
episode remained with us for a long time, taking different forms and
appearing from different angles. The atmosphere was marked by fluctua-
tions – sometimes reflective, sometimes with acting-out – although these
were much more benign in character. His perception of his relationship
with his girlfriend as an erotic–thanatic staging of his relationship with his
mother continued to be elaborated, until it finally ended. My work with
lvaro went on for a long time – there were obstacles, ups and downs and
complications too numerous to go into here and which are not relevant to
this article.

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414 V. S. Mondrzak

Notes on the clinical practice

By using this case fragment, I wanted to highlight certain issues that I con-
sider to be crucial in cases that I have described as ‘pseudo-pseudomature’.
However, what I have to say also has implications for techniques of adoles-
cent analysis in general. My chosen term for referring to these patients does
not correspond to any established diagnostic category but aims to describe a
certain defensive configuration that I have identified. I use the term primar-
ily to call attention to an aspect of the psychic functioning of these adoles-
cents and to be able to deal with some technical issues that it would be
useful for us to reflect on. Even bearing in mind that we are looking at an
individual case, I believe that the study of clinical cases is an essential tool
in psychoanalysis (on this subject, I refer readers to the work of Miranda,
2005). In Meltzer’s (1978) study, the term ‘pseudomature’ is applied to
young people who are apparently calm, compliant and asymptomatic, prefer
the company of adults, and have highly developed verbal and cognitive
capacities. These characteristics indicate a pseudo-adaptation which will be
subject to severe breaks in adulthood when frustration and anxiety can over-
whelm this characterological structure. Meltzer (1966) associates this struc-
ture with anal masturbation, accompanied by the fantasy of secret intrusion
into the anus of the mother. He sees this as leading to an idealization of the
rectum as a source of nourishment and a rapturous identification with the
inner mother, blurring the separate identities of mother and child. From the
intrapsychic point of view, he emphasizes the omnipotent attitude and con-
sequent denial of dependence. Yet this characteristic is not seen in those
adolescents I have called pseudo-pseudomature: once secure in the analytic
setting, they seem eager for the opportunity to demonstrate their depen-
dency and need for help. When it comes to treatment, the concern is always
to be mindful that, above all else, the psychoanalytic process should be able
to offer a containing space in which the latency structure may be broken. It
should aim to bring ‘disorder’ to the patient’s obsessive ego organization –
a stage that needs to take place in order for (the necessary) adolescent tur-
bulence to be initiated (Ungar, 2004).
What we observe in many situations is that adolescent turbulence has
been hindered because infantile, dependent aspects cannot be acknowledged
or contained. We tend to look for the reasons for this in the patient, the
parents, the cultural environment or a varying combination of these. In real-
ity, it is an arbitrary distinction, with didactic value at best. If we could even
think about a system of such complex interactions, it would be impossible
to single out one particular cause. In modern-day culture we are witnessing
something parodoxical: we are seeing a prolonging of adolescence, with
youngsters finding it harder to leave the parental home and find employ-
ment – effectively being infantilized – and at the same time we observe a
pressure towards ‘maturity and autonomy’, which is frequently premature. It
scarcely needs saying that such a framework also has its effect on adults,
interfering in the parental function. Today, it seems, we are not supposed
ever to feel afraid, insecure or in need of help. With this background, we
can understand that, for lvaro, being ‘calm and compliant’ and indepen-

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Reflections on psychoanalytic technique with adolescents today: Pseudo-pseudomaturity 415

dent was a matter of survival, a behaviour he judged to be necessary for his

mother to be able to tolerate his presence – as she would have had problems
with someone more dependent. How can adolescent turbulence, and its pre-
genital confusion, be risked when there are no guarantees that one will not
be abandoned by the object? But we know that in order for the adolescence
process to get started on a reliable basis it is necessary that this intense
dependency should be experienced. According to Meltzer:
One of the paradoxes of adolescence is that the adolescent believes that what makes
them advance towards the adult world is in fact regressive, whereas what turns them
once more into a child is actually what makes them an adult.
(1978, p. 7)
Winnicott’s (1960) concepts of true and false self are, clearly, central to
what we are looking at here. The true self is the theoretical position describ-
ing the source of the spontaneous gesture, while the false self is structured
as a defence when there is a risk that the manifestation of the true self will
not be accepted. The characteristics of this defensive system will depend on
the mother’s capacity to respond to the gesture of the lactating infant,
thereby feeding the omnipotence of its still fragile ego. The mother who is
not ‘good enough’ is not able to boost the baby’s omnipotence, failing to
respond to the spontaneous gesture. She substitutes her own gesture, which
must be validated by the baby’s submission. This submission is the initial
stage of the construction of the false self. At first, Winnicott linked the con-
cept of false self with pseudomaturity; he emphasized the tendency for the
intellect to become the location of the false self, with intellectual develop-
ment giving the illusion of maturity. However, he later considered the false
self to lie within a spectrum: at one end, an ego organization that would
permit adaptation to the environment, at the other the manifestly false and
submissive self. The healthier the ego, the more reconciliation, and not sub-
mission, is seen. The pseudo-pseudomature structure (I prefer to use this
term to characterize the absence of an omnipotent attitude of depen-
dencedenying and an intense desire to experience infantile dependence)
corresponds to a defensive false self which exists to protect the true self
from having to expose its dependency and fragility, in other words, from the
spontaneous gesture that might overwhelm the mother and is replaced by
submission to what it senses is expected by her. An absence of creativity and
genuine personal growth, despite the patient acting in many ways like an
adult, are indicators of the false self.
We might pose the question of whether postmodern culture may actually
be encouraging this defensive structure by providing narcissistic outlets to
cope with the disillusionments of the adult world, with an implicit intoler-
ance of individuals’ fragile and dependent aspects. To help answer this, we
need to return to the idea of the ‘immaturity’ of the adolescent, in the sense
emphasized by Winnicott (1968). The word is in inverted commas because it
does not denote a reality but is an indication of what might be expected of
the adolescent, who himself is unable to be anything other than not ‘imma-
ture’. Winnicott states (‘‘dogmatically’’, p. 198) that immaturity is a precious
part of adolescence, essential to mental health, and for which there is only

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416 V. S. Mondrzak

one cure – the passage of time. He stresses that it is the responsibility of the
adult to allow themself to be shaken by the aspirations of ‘‘those who are
not responsible’’. If adults become too bound up in their role and abdicate
this function, the adolescent, through a false process, becomes adult prema-
turely. Maturity is successfully achieved only through a process of growth
and is not based on an imitation of adult behaviour. Thus, the idea of
pseudo-pseudomaturity depends on a paradox: despite the greater apparent
maturity at this phase of development, the more ‘mature’ adolescent is the
one who can show themself to be immature.
In the course of the psychoanalytic process we need to respect the work of
the false self in ascertaining whether the analytic setting is secure and be
guided by the pace that it dictates (Winnicott’s ‘caring self’) as it searches
for a space in which fragilities can be acknowledged and accepted. I wit-
nessed the value of this function on a number of occasions when lvaro
asked me to hold back, and being aware of this can avoid making interpre-
tations that would only serve to underline the patient’s resistances. lvaro
presented with a desire, almost an urgent need, to be able to manifest his
true self – in its infantile and fragile form – and for it to be acknowledged.
If it was not possible for this to happen with his parents (and this is still the
case), then it has to be the analytic setting which offers a secure ‘container’
in which intense emotions can be safely expressed, and provides a possible
model that he may be able to introject over time.
For this reason, the provision of such a setting should be the first and
most urgent task of the analyst. By setting, I mean not only the formal
aspect but, most importantly, a particular mental configuration in the ana-
lyst who needs to be reflective and containing, and should try to make sense
of the patient’s emotions. In these cases, awareness of our mental move-
ments and the range of feelings we may experience during the analysis is
even more crucial than usual. It will involve ongoing work, usually unspo-
ken, to contain the emotional turbulence that cannot be sensed by the
patient. As Bion (1978) so memorably put it, being able to perceive that we
have doubts, anxieties and fears, and yet we do not avoid these feelings but
transform them into something that can be psychically useful, forms the
basis of the psychoanalytic process. But we know that this is not straightfor-
ward. As analysts we may undergo lengthy training but, in truth, this is
never complete. With these adolescents, we need to learn to inhabit adoles-
cence all over again, experiencing the process alongside them, in order to
recover the true self.
Several issues now present themselves. How do we deal with that fine line
between respecting the patients’ autonomy and neglecting their more regres-
sive needs? How do we formulate interpretations that strike a balance
between unsaturation and saturation? If we interpret only on a saturated
basis, we put limitations on the creative space available, but if we confine
ourselves to unsaturated interpretations we run the risk of leaving the ado-
lescent in a confused state. The most serious issue with these patients is this:
we need to open up the space to allow for mental disorganization and then
not be too hasty to calm down the turbulence, but without leaving them
unsupported in this world of emotions they are not equipped to understand.

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Reflections on psychoanalytic technique with adolescents today: Pseudo-pseudomaturity 417

In what degree should we adopt the ‘patient as best colleague’ approach

(Bion, 1978), without this amounting to neglecting our responsibility for the
conduct of the analytic process, making a gesture of false symmetry? The
notion of ‘patient best colleague’ is of course pivotal to our work but with
these adolescents I consider it to be of particular importance: it communi-
cates our recognition that they are able to help in shaping the analytic pro-
cess and it releases us from the position of ‘adults who know better because
they have more experience’. Winnicott’s (1971) seminal advice remains a
valuable important reminder:
For the sake of adolescents, and of their immaturity, do not allow them to step up
and attain a false maturity by handing over to them a responsibility that is not yet
theirs, even though they may fight for it.
(p. 198)
Our responsibility for the analytic process is a duty we cannot shirk and
we must never seek to avoid conflict by using self-justifications that deny
difference between generations or roles.
There are still more questions to consider. Can we intervene with the par-
ents without disregarding the requirement (which will surely grow as the
treatment continues) that the patients themselves should face up to them or
without holding back? Then there is the problem of the transference: how
should we approach or choose not to approach it – an issue that frequently
arises in current technique theory, particularly with adolescents? This has
been one of the most hotly debated areas of adolescent analysis, which for a
time ensured that it was contraindicated. I believe that follow the different
modalities of analytic relationship proposed/ expected ⁄ experienced provides
the foundation of transference work. My understanding of this work is the
attempt to understand the emotional experience of the patient ⁄ analyst, tak-
ing in aspects of transference in the classical sense but also a range of phe-
nomena generated by the encounter itself.
Accordingly, I became and felt myself to be several different ‘mothers’:
before leaving for my holidays, denying the intensity of his dependence, I
would have preferred to view the patient as ‘more grown-up’; on my return,
fearing that I would be unable to contain his emotions, I became a dis-
tressed and guilty mother. We transmit a sense of these kinds of feelings to
the patient via different preverbal signals used to express emotions. This
process is a therapeutic one: the patient was able to see me behaving less
‘rationally’ than usual, and then that it was possible to recover rationality,
not as a defence against feelings but rather as an elaboration of them.
All these reflections on techniques of adolescent analysis presuppose that
psychoanalysis is a science undergoing constant change, incorporating new
thinking based on clinical observation. Change that takes place in the wider
cultural context tends to get taken up in the development of psychoanalytic
culture. Leaving aside regional differences and theoretical trends, we are also
seeing psychoanalytic thinking becoming the arena in which the challenge to
the all-powerful claims of science is played out. We have had to abandon
the belief (or, perhaps more accurately, desire) that we could call on an
omniscient explanatory theory (Eizirik, 2000), encapsulated in the well-worn

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418 V. S. Mondrzak

catchphrase ‘Freud will explain’. However, it is my belief that there have

been significant gains as a result: we now have a deeper understanding of
what occurs between patient and analyst during analysis, mainly from the
way in which we currently view the role of the analyst, bringing into the
light their conscious and unconscious psychic processes. The importance of
the subjective mind of the analyst rapidly became integrated into the theo-
retical corpus of a number of psychoanalytical models (such as those of
Bion, Winnicott, the field model, the intersubjective model – to name only
a few) and into basic concepts (transference and countertransference). It
takes courage as analysts to abandon the secure and protected position from
which we listen and proffer interpretations, undertaking to view ourselves as
integral parts of the analytic process, and thus equally subject to fragilities,
fears and anxieties. There is no challenge greater than when, face to face
with an adolescent, we must find a (precarious) balancing point between
accepting our limitations as adult analysts and the requirement to act as
adults prepared to deal with confrontation. It is a vital part of our role to
take up the position of the other who has an expertise that is not omnipo-
tent but is useful and consistent. To this end, we must seek constantly to
renew our faith in the analytic method while acknowledging its limitations
and to insist on maintaining the asymmetry of the analytic relationship,
which safely ensures that differences are not blurred or conflicts denied.
Technique theory has followed this shift in emphasis and changes have
taken place meaning that the analyst and their mental life have become inte-
grated into the phenomena of the setting. The traditional concept of neu-
trality, centred on the analytic function, has also been re-thought and may
be expressed as follows (Mondrzak, 2004): the mediation of the process of
contact with psychic reality, assuring that the several internal voices of the
patient – with their own versions, arguments and fears – may be heard,
leading to the possibility of more satisfactory negotiations and settlements.
It is important to believe that we do not know what is best for the patient
and it is only our narcissism that leads us to think otherwise. We will always
have an opinion, consciously or otherwise, about what the patient brings to
us and, if we do not express this, it is not because of the existence of a par-
ticular technical rule, it is because we are aware that it is just that – an
opinion – and not necessarily the correct or best one. Even if we could
think hypothetically of a situation in which we would know the best out-
come for the patient, our function would not be to try and communicate
this ‘knowledge’. Bion’s (1970) masterful insights show us that, rather than
passing on theoretical learning, the most important principle is that the
patient should be encouraged to ‘learn’ to use their instruments of thought.
If we do anything other than this, we are not practising psychoanalysis.
With the idea of neutrality becoming more associated with the mental
attitude of the analyst (Meltzer, 1993) than, as previously, with the formal
aspects of the setting or the conduct of analysts, the adolescent setting has
become more flexible, enabling a closer dialogue to take place. The option
to adjust interpretations according to what a patient seems open to hearing
at a given moment also frees us from the obligation to keep ‘producing’
continuous interpretations. As well as this, being able to speak in a more

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Reflections on psychoanalytic technique with adolescents today: Pseudo-pseudomaturity 419

colloquial way helps us to find a form of language the adolescent is likely to

find more comprehensible. Far from permitting a relaxation of the analytic
criteria, this approach actually increases the analyst’s responsibility in terms
of their capacity to be receptive to the psychic activity and alert to the emo-
tional atmosphere of the session.
In defending the adolescent’s right to be ‘immature’, Winnicott (1968)
does something more significant than give advice (which, at any rate, is
rarely effective with adolescents): he obliges us to reflect on what we as
adult ⁄ analysts are able to offer them. We should not expect the adolescent
to be aware of their immaturity or be able to recognize its characteristics.
Neither can we simply be content with trying to understand it, which would
imply a paternalistic attitude that removed the patient’s right to simply be
immature. For Winnicott (1961), this kind of understanding needs to be
replaced by confrontation: namely, when an adult stands up and claims the
right to express a point of view that is personal rather than acting as an
authority figure. But can we psychoanalysts, for whom understanding is the
keystone of our practice, accept that we need to understand the necessity at
certain moments to ‘not understand’? I do not mean in the sense of requir-
ing a negative capability in the analyst but that we need to be able to see
these instances as a paradox that can never be resolved.

The way in which adolescence is approached in psychoanalytic theory has
undergone countless modifications, with this developmental stage no longer
viewed as the final act in a play that began in infancy. Theoretical develop-
ments in psychoanalysis as a whole have been reflected in changes in tech-
nique that bring analyst and adolescent into closer dialogue but also create
new challenges. To the notion of psychic determinism there has been added
a perspective that aims to open up space for the chance occurrence, for the
unforeseeable and for the possibility of new organization emerging from the
mental noise produced by internal and external stimuli. Increasingly, we are
looking at phenomena in a more integrated way which cuts through the
internal ⁄ external dichotomy. It is not an easy process because we tend to
evolve systems and divisions to control our anxiety in the face of the unfa-
miliar or in confusing situations. The treatment of adolescents forces us to
see our limitations clearly and introduces ‘noise’ into our psychic system
and our familiar theories, taking us away from our comfortable equilibrium.
Obviously, this process is not unique to the treatment of adolescents but in
these cases one observes that it is a constant companion. And when it is not
seen, as in those cases I have described as ‘pseudo-pseudomature’, still
greater noise is produced inside us because we know that a fundamental ele-
ment is missing.
Why, then, is there a need for the term ‘pseudo-pseudomature’? Are we
simply creating a neologism which amounts to a different way of saying the
same thing? I choose to maintain the term in order to describe the presence
of factors that I consider important from the clinical point of view: the
absence of a dependence-denying attitude (which forms part of Meltzer’s

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420 V. S. Mondrzak

description of the pseudomature), the possibility that some aspects of post-

modern culture may be acting as a stimulus to such a defensive structure
and, above all, I use it to highlight the paradox that, in adolescence, matu-
rity can consist of being immature. My primary aim in coining the term is
to impart particular concerns I have in relation to the treatment of adoles-
cents in the current context, and my hope is that it may aid in the discus-
sion of the peculiarities of the universe inhabited by the adolescents who
come to us and the environment in which both adolescents and we analysts
live our lives.
In conclusion, I want to call attention to the fact that as psychoanalysts
treating adolescents we have a twofold responsibility: to the patient themself
and, in a wider sense, to the replenishment of the well of creativity that
youngsters collectively represent. It is certainly true that adolescents are in
need of better role models and leaders but we should never forget that we
also need adolescents to make us question the way we live and to bring
about change. In fact, we need to be constantly salvaging in ourselves and
in our adult patients something of that adolescent transgression if the crea-
tive potential in all of us is not to be lost.

Translations of summary
Überlegungen zu einigen Aspekten der psychoanalytischen Praxis mit heutigen Adoleszenten:
‘‘Pseudo-Pseudoreife’’. Dieser Artikel geht von der Beobachtung von Adoleszenten aus, die heutzu-
tage unfhig zu sein scheinen, die Latenzphase aufzubrechen, wodurch die Einleitung des Prozesses der
Adoleszenz erschwert wird. Diese Jugendlichen zeigen besondere Merkmale, die die Autorin als ‘‘Pseudo-
Pseudoreife’’ zu bezeichnen vorschlgt: sie scheinen bis auf den einen oder anderen unbedeutenden Punkt
gut angepasst zu sein und Konflikte kommen nicht vor. Sie unterscheiden sich von der Beschreibung der
Pseudoreife (Meltzer) aufgrund des Fehlens einer omnipotenten Haltung mit der Leugnung von Ab-
hngigkeit. Im Gegenteil, sie scheinen eifrig nach einer Gelegenheit Ausschau zu halten, das infantile wa-
hre Selbst annehmen und einbinden zu mssen, um sich sicher zu fhlen, in den Prozess der Adoleszenz
mit all seinen Turbulenzen einzutreten. Einige Aspekte unserer Kultur werden in ihrem Zusammenhang
mit der beschriebenen psychischen Konstellation diskutiert. Anhand von Bruchstcken aus der Analyse
eines 19 Jahre alten Patienten konzentriert sich der Artikel auf die Diskussion von technischen Fragen
bei diesen Fllen, mit dem Schwergewicht auf die mentalen Prozesse des Analytikers und der Bedeutung
der Fhigkeit, die emotionalen Turbulenzen zu halten [contain], die vom Patienten nicht empfunden wer-
den kçnnen. Die Autorin versucht die Vielfalt der verschiedenen, in der analytischen Beziehung zu erwar-
tenden, beabsichtigten und erfahrenen Modalitten als Untersttzung fr die bertragungsarbeit
nachzuvollziehen. Es wird auch diskutiert, wie und wann einige dieser Aspekte gedeutet werden sollten.
Der psychoanalytische Prozess hat in diesen Fllen eine doppelte Verpflichtung – gegenber dem Patien-
ten und gegenber der Gesellschaft als Ganzes, und zwar aufgrund des schçpferischen Potentials, das He-
ranwachsende darstellen und das fr Wachstum und Vernderung unerlsslich ist.

Reflexiones sobre ciertos aspectos de la práctica psicoanalı́tica con adolescentes hoy. La

‘pseudo-pseudo-madurez’. Este trabajo parte de la observacin de adolescentes que parecen incapac-
es de romper con la estructura de la latencia, dificultando el inicio del proceso adolescente. Estos jvenes
se presentan con caractersticas especficas que la autora propone llamar ‘pseudo-pseudo-madurez’: pare-
cen bien adaptados, salvo por algunos aspectos aparentemente irrelevantes, y no tienen conflictos. Sus
rasgos se diferencian de los de la pseudo-madurez (Meltzer) en la falta de la actitud omnipotente de neg-
acin de la dependencia. Por el contrario, parecen buscar ansiosamente una oportunidad de que su ver-
dadero self infantil sea aceptado y contenido para sentirse seguros y, as, poder ingresar en el proceso
adolescente con toda su turbulencia. Se analizan algunos aspectos de nuestra cultura en relacin con la
configuracin psquica descrita. Utilizando fragmentos del anlisis de una persona de 19 aÇos, el trabajo
se centra en la discusin de cuestiones t cnicas vinculadas con estos casos y enfatiza los procesos men-
tales del o de la analista y la importancia de poder contener la turbulencia emocional que estos pacientes
no pueden sentir. La autora intenta seguir las distintas modalidades esperadas ⁄ propuestas ⁄ experimenta-
das en la relacin analtica como sost n del trabajo de transferencia. Tambi n se exploran algunos aspec-
tos relacionados con la modalidad y la oportunidad de la interpretacin. El proceso psicoanaltico en

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Reflections on psychoanalytic technique with adolescents today: Pseudo-pseudomaturity 421
estos casos tiene un doble compromiso – con los pacientes y con la sociedad toda – debido al potencial
creativo de los adolescentes, que es esencial para el cambio y el crecimiento.

Réflexions sur quelques aspects de la pratique psychanalytique actuelle auprès des

adolescents: la ‘‘pseudo-pseudo maturité’’. Cet article s’appuie sur l’observation d’adolescents qui
aujourd’hui semblent incapables de rompre d’avec la structure de la latence, ce qui entrave chez eux
l’instauration du processus de l’adolescence. Ces jeunes gens pr sentent des caract ristiques sp cifiques
que l’auteur d signe du terme de « pseudo-pseudo maturit »: ils semblent bien adapt s, exception faite
de quelques points qui semblent hors de propos et d’une absence de conflits. Ils se distinguent de ce que
Meltzer appelle la pseudo maturit en ce sens que l’attitude omnipotente de d ni de la d pendance leur
fait d faut. Au contraire, ils semblent avidement
la recherche d’occasions o leur soi infantile puisse
Þtre accept et contenu afin d’acc der en toute s curit au processus de l’adolescence et ses turbulences.
L’auteur discute de certains des aspects de notre culture en lien avec cette configuration psychique partic-
uli re. A partir de fragments d’une analyse d’un patient de 19 ans, l’auteur centre la discussion sur les
aspects techniques li s
ces cas, en soulignant les processus psychiques
l’œuvre chez l’analyste et la
n cessit pour celui-ci de pouvoir contenir la turbulence motionnelle qui ne peut Þtre ressentie par le
patient. L’auteur s’efforce de suivre les diff rentes modalit s (attendues ⁄ propos es ⁄ prouv es) de la rela-
tion analytique qui sous-tendent le travail du transfert. La question de la formulation et du timing des in-
terpr tations est galement abord e. Le processus analytique correspond ici
un double engagement, du
c t du patient et du c t de la soci t dans son ensemble, en raison du potentiel cr ateur pr sent par
les adolescents et qui s’av re essentiel au changement et
la croissance.

Riflessioni su alcuni aspetti della prassi psicoanalitica con gli adolescenti di oggi: la ‘pseudo-
pseudomaturità’. Questo lavoro nasce dall’osservazione degli adolescenti odierni che sembrano avere
a rompere con un assetto di latenza e a costruire un processo adolescenziale. Questi giovani si
presentano con caratteristiche specifiche che l’autrice ha concettualizzato con la definizione di ‘psudo-
’. Si tratta infatti di ragazzi che appaiono ben adattati, se si escludono alcuni dettagli a
prima vista di minore importanza, e che non sembrano avere conflitti. Questi giovani non corrispondono
alla definizione meltzeriana di ‘pseudo-maturit
’ in quanto non presentano il tipico atteggiamento onnip-
otente di negazione della dipendenza. Al contrario, sembrano aspettare l’opportunit
di vedere il proprio
‘s vero’ riconosciuto e accettato, per poter affrontare il turbolento processo dell’adolescenza. Questo lav-
oro si propone di trattare alcuni aspetti della nostra cultura e di metterli in relazione alla configurazione
psichica qui descritta. Partendo da frammenti dell’analisi di un (una?) giovane di diciannove anni, il lav-
oro si incentra sulla discussione di questioni tecniche relative a questi casi; mette in evidenza I processi
mentali dell’analista e l’importanza della capacit
di quest’ultimo di contenere l’inquietudine emotiva di
cui il paziente non ancora consapevole. L’autrice cerca di attenersi alla variet
delle modalit
ste ⁄ proposte ⁄ vissute nel rapporto analitico sulle quali va a poggiare il lavoro transferenziale. Vengono i-
noltre prese in esame problematiche relative alle modalit
e ai tempi dell’interpretazione. Il processo
psicoanalitico in questi casi pone di fronte a una duplice responsabilit
: quella nei confronti del paziente
e quella nei confronti della societ
nel suo insieme, dato il potenziale creativo rappresentato da questi
giovani, indispensabile per la crescita e il rinnovamento.

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